Recently someone remarked to me that sometimes the Catholic Church seems to be a collection of rules just for the sake of rules. I could provide a long list of examples, but I suspect you have in mind your own list of rules that give you pause. Of course one always has to discern if what you are hearing is actually a “rule” of the Church or just something someone offers as a rule – but just ain’t so. There are lots of people who offer that it is a “rule” that you have to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent. Nope. It is “the Easter Duty” to receive Holy Communion during the Easter Season – that’s a rule – and there is a historical reason for it.
There is even a rule for how many times in a single day you can receive Holy Communion. I overheard someone tell a child that they could only receive one time a day. Nope. You can receive up to three times in a single day, but at least one has to be at a Communion service and not a Mass. The limit of three is to prevent people from “multiplying” the reception of communion as a kind of “works salvation” (…or even worse, stave off magical thinking.). Why at least once at a communion service? I have no idea.
As we hear in our first reading today it has been perceived as a problem in the Church since the earliest days. It probably always will be. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is there in their midst. When 20+ are gathered you might need an organizing committee. When you have 1.5 billion members world wide in more than 130 countries and worshiping in more than 170 languages – you’re gonna’ need rules for good order, orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right practice).
Let us trust that in 2,000 years most of the rules are for our benefit. But let us not be afraid to question rules lest we unduly burden those who would come to faith in Christ.
Image credit: Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515 – Public Domain